email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
269 Amazing Sex GamesA History of MarriageA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyActionAll the WayAmerica UnzippedAmerica UnzippedAmerica's Sexual TransformationAmerican EugenicsAmerican GirlsAmerican HookupAn Interpretation of DesireAnarchism & SexualityAnatomy of a BoyfriendAnatomy of LoveAnthony GoicoleaAnticlimaxArt and HomosexualityArt/PornAssuming a BodyAutoportraitBachelors and BunniesBecoming OrgasmicBehind the Red DoorBest Sex Writing 2005Better Sex Through YogaBetter Sex Through YogaBetter Than EverBetween Mom and JoBeyond Diversity DayBeyond SexualityBeyond SpeechBeyond ToleranceBig Porn IncBill HensonBodies in DoubtBody ImagesBonkBoys Don't CryBreasts - A DocumentaryBrothelBuying SexCase Studies in Communication about SexCase Studies in Sexual DevianceCaught in the WebCelibaciesChildren and SexualityChildren and the Politics of SexualityChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChristy ReportClay's WayClinical Manual of Women's Mental HealthClose toYouClumsyCold HitCollege SexComing of Age in AmericaConfessions of the Other MotherCybersexCyborgasmDare... to Make Love with 2, 3, 4... or MoreDare... to Try BisexualityDating: Philosophy for EveryoneDeadly ButterflyDebating Same-Sex MarriageDeep GossipDeparting from DevianceDesire, Love, and IdentityDigital DiariesDilemmas of DesireDirty MindsDirty StoriesDisorders Of DesireDisorders of Sex Development:Doing ItDoing ItDoing It Down UnderDown and Dirty Sex SecretsDude, You're a FagEarly Embraces IIIEmerald City BluesEmotionally InvolvedEnjoying Guilty PleasuresErotic CapitalErotic InnocenceErotic PassionsEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEveryday PornographyEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorExploring TranssexualismFade to BlackFagbugFaking ItFamilies Like MineFast GirlsFinal JeopardyFinding H. F.Fire on the Mountain DVDFor Lesbian ParentsFor The Bible Tells Me SoForbiddenFrictionFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Shame to SinFuckologyGay, Straight, and the Reason WhyGender in the MirrorGender OutlawsGeography ClubGetting RealGetting the Love You WantGirls & SexGirls Gone MildGirls Gone SkankGLBTQGoddess WorshipGoing DownGood GirlsGood PornGood Sex IllustratedGreat Answers to Difficult Questions About SexGuide To Getting It OnHandbook New Sexuality StudiesHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHard to GetHardcore from the HeartHear Us Out!HeterosyncraciesHit & MissHomosexualitiesHookedHooking UpHow Sex Became a Civil LibertyHow Sex ChangedHow Sex WorksHow To Be GayHow to Do Things with Pornography How to Give Her Absolute PleasureHow to Have Magnificent SexHow to Make Great Love to a ManHow to Make Great Love to a WomanHow to Make Love Like a Porn StarHow to Think More About SexHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenHysterical MenI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'll Be Your MirrorIf Men Could TalkImpotenceIn a Queer VoiceIn Praise of the WhipIn the Mood, AgainInsatiable WivesIntense Games DVDInvestigating Young People's Sexual CulturesIt's Perfectly NormalIt's Perfectly NormalItís Your HourJane Sexes It UpJock SturgesJust Between UsKama-Sutra--The Secrets to the Art of LoveKids Gone WildLegalizing ProstitutionLegalizing ProstitutionLet's Get This StraightLets Talk about SexLetters to Penthouse Vol. 50Likely to DieLittle ChicagoLoose GirlLosing Matt ShepardLoveLove and DesireLove and SexLove JunkieLove Lust DesireLove SickLustMad for FoucaultMagical ThinkingMaking American BoysMaking Babies the Hard WayMaking Chastity SexyMaking Peace with PornMaking ScenesMale SexualityMalefemaleMaster BreastsMating in CaptivityMedicalized MasculinitiesMelancholia and MoralismMenMental Health Issues in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities MiddlesexMoney ShotMoral Panics, Sex PanicsMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy HeartbeatMy Horizontal LifeName All the AnimalsNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew Sex Now DVDNightswimmingNone of the AboveNormalNormalNot GayNot My ShameNot The Marrying KindNot Under My RoofNothing PinkOedipus WreckedOn Being RapedOne Hot SecondOne Hour in ParisOpenOrgasmOrgasm Inc.OrgasmologyOrgasmsOver 100 Truly Astonishing Sex TipsOverexposedPeekPeriod PiecesPervPhilosophizing About Sex Philosophy of Love, Sex, and MarriagePin-up GrrrlsPINSPlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPolicing SexualityPolyamory in the 21st CenturyPornPorn NationPorn StudiesPorn UniversityPornifiedPornlandPornographyPornographyPornography, Sex, and FeminismPosition Of The Day PlaybookPray the Gay AwayPredatorsPremarital Sex in AmericaPrinciples and Practice of Sex TherapyPrivate Dicks - Men ExposedPrivate Practices DVDProblem GirlsPrudePsychopathia SexualisQueer PhilosophyRapeRape Is RapeRated X - A Journey Through PornRazmatazRecruiting Young LoveRedefining GirlyRedefining RapeRegulating SexRelax, It's Just SexRethinking Gender and Sexuality in ChildhoodRethinking RapeRunning with ScissorsSatan's Sex BookScreening SexSelling Sex ShortSexSex & Single GirlsSex (Ed)Sex and SpiritSex and the American TeenagerSex and the SoulSex and the Soul, Updated EditionSex and WarSex at DawnSex by NumbersSex DetoxSex Fiends, Perverts, and PedophilesSex in CrisisSex ObjectSex OffendersSex on the BrainSex PositionsSex Q & ASex, Family, and the Culture WarsSex, or the UnbearableSex, Therapy, and KidsSex, Time and PowerSextasySexting and Young PeopleSexual ArtSexual Boundary ViolationsSexual DevianceSexual DisordersSexual EcstasySexual EthicsSexual FluiditySexual IntelligenceSexual Orientation and Psychodynamic PsychotherapySexual Orientation and School PolicySexual PleasureSexual PredatorsSexual Teens, Sexual MediaSexuality in AdolescenceSexuationSexyBookShameShamelessShy GirlSlutWalkSmall FavorsSmutSocial Control of Sex OffendersSome Assembly RequiredSplit ScreenStir-FryStraight to JesusStrange BedfellowsStripped BareSurviving Sexual ViolenceSymptoms of Being HumanTalkTalk to Me FirstTechniques of PleasureTestosterone RexThe Anthropology of SexThe BabiesThe Better Sex Guide to the Kama SutraThe Big Book of PornThe Birth of the PillThe Blue Moon Erotic Reader IIIThe BodyThe Breast BookThe Breath of Tantric LoveThe Busy Couple's Guide to Great SexThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Chemistry Between UsThe Clitoral TruthThe Education of SophieThe Emergence of SexualityThe End Of AliceThe End of SexThe Erotic EdgeThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Essential KamasutraThe Fate of GenderThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Gay Baby BoomThe Good Vibrations Guide to SexThe Happy Hook-UpThe Hite ReportThe Humble Little CondomThe Illustrated Guide to Extended Massive OrgasmThe Illustrated Story of OThe Love CureThe Madness of WomenThe Men They Will BecomeThe Mirror of LoveThe Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Moral Panics of SexualityThe Naked Truth About SexThe Nature of Sexual DesireThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New Gay TeenagerThe Notebook GirlsThe Only Girl in the CarThe Order of the Poison OakThe Origins of SexThe Other HollywoodThe Other PlaceThe Other Side of DesireThe Perils of MasculinityThe Perversion of YouthThe Philosophy of PornographyThe Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary ReadingsThe Pleasure's All MineThe Politics Of LustThe Porn TrapThe Pornographer's GriefThe Pornography IndustryThe Praeger Handbook of TranssexualityThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Purity MythThe Real Truth About Teens and SexThe Right to Be ParentsThe Secret Lives of GirlsThe Sex Addiction WorkbookThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Sex MythThe Shared HeartThe Sleep of ReasonThe Smart Girl's Guide to PornThe State of AffairsThe Story of SexThe SurrenderThe Ten Minute Sexual SolutionThe Tenth CircleThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Trauma MythThe Ultimate Guide to Sex and DisabilityThe Vagina MonologuesThe ValleyThe Violence of CareThe Virgin BlueThe Virginity ClubThings Tom LikesThinking KinkThinking XXXToo Hot to HandleTransTransTransgender Children and YouthUltimate JudgementUltimate SexUndoing GenderUnlikelyUntangling the WebVirginVirgin NationVirgin Sex for GirlsVirgin Sex for GuysVirginity LostWhat Does Consent Really Mean?What Women WantWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhat's Happening to Tom?What's Wrong with Homosexuality?When Jeff Comes HomeWhen Sex Goes to SchoolWhen the Piano StopsWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Who Has What?Who's Been Sleeping in Your HeadWilhelm ReichWired for IntimacyWomen and Child Sexual AbuseWomen and MadnessWritten in the FleshYou Know Me WellZen Sex
'First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Johnny with a baby carriage.' This nursery rhyme expresses succinctly the norm of love and sex in Western Culture. Note first that sexuality itself is only referred to obliquely as the unspoken means of reproduction, the third part of a series that begins with love and is followed by marriage. Note as well that the norm proffered is clearly prescriptive rather than descriptive. Sexual desire need not occur only I combination with love, nor does romantic love necessarily result in marriage. Finally, note that the norm is clearly heterosexual. Persons with minority sexual desires exist outside of this norm as perversions of the telos of sex.
In the context of this last point in particular, gay and lesbian rights activists have fought hard to establish that one's sexual orientation is not perverse. Their arguments have typically been based on the claim that one's orientation is fixed and not chosen. Hence, a lesbian can no more 'help' being lesbian than a heterosexual woman can 'help' being heterosexual. While this argument has some basis in fact, and makes sense on a political level since it offers a response to the political right who oppose gay rights by maintaining that "sexual orientation is akin to ethnicity -- a basic, stable trait that people are born with and over which they have no control" (246), it makes at least two fundamental errors. The first one occurs in thinking that "fixed = biological = deserving of acceptance and protection, whereas variable = chosen = fair game for stigma and discrimination" (246 -- Diamond's emphasis). Many things can be variable and change, which are not in any sense chosen. Think, for example, of the changes we go through at puberty. These are not chosen. The same example can be used to show as well that not everything that's biological is fixed and unchanging.
Second, the claim that sexuality is entirely biological and hence not susceptible to change via environmental factors is inconsistent with the empirical facts of the matter. Some people -- particularly women -- have a fluid sexuality. Diamond's fascinating, perceptive, and groundbreaking book offers an explanation of what this means, what evidence has been gathered to support it, and what implications the existence of sexual fluidity does and does not have.
Diamond describes sexual fluidity as a "situation-dependent flexibility in women's sexual responsiveness," which "makes it possible for some women to experience desires for either men or women under certain circumstances, regardless of their overall sexual orientation" (3). Although there can be some overlap between bisexuality and fluidity, they are not they same thing. Bisexuality is a "consistent pattern of erotic responses to both sexes, manifested in clear cut sexual attractions to men and women" whereas fluidity is a kind of "potential for non-exclusive attractions" (134 -- emphases added). Hence, e.g., Anne Heche's same-sex involvement with Ellen DeGeneres within a lifetime of other-sex engagements is best thought of as the result of fluidity and not as bisexuality.
Having said this, Diamond is at pains to argue that the existence of sexual fluidity does not entail the non-existence of sexual orientation. Nor does fluidity mean that one's orientation can change, is the result of choice, or that it is purely the result of environmental influences. Rather, fluidity is best thought of as "an additional component of a women's sexuality that operates in concert with sexual orientation to influence how her attractions, fantasies, behaviors, and affections are experienced and expressed over the life course. Fluidity implies not that women's desires are endlessly variable but that some women are capable of a wider variety of erotic feelings and experiences than would be predicted on the basis of their self-described sexual orientation alone" (10 -- Diamond's emphasis). With respect to sexual orientation, Diamond says that she is "among the growing number of social sciences who view sexual feelings and experiences as simultaneously embedded in both physical-biological and sociocultural contexts that require integrated biosocial research strategies" (22). Amen to that: it is surely time to move on from the narrowly prescribed grounds of politics to consider the issue of sexuality at arms length. Unfortunately, this has already resulted in groups on the political right, such as Concerned Women for America and the National Association for Research and Therapy on Homosexuality, (purposely?) misinterpreting evidence from Diamond and others in their ongoing antigay battle (246-249).
In arguing for this broadened approach, Diamond employs a distinction between two types of sexual desire: "proceptivity" and "receptivity" (or "arousability"). "Proceptivity, or lust, can emerge spontaneously across a wide variety of environments and so can be thought of as situation independent. A straightforward example of proceptive desire would be a general feeling of "horniness" that might emerge for no particular reason…. Arousability is quite different. It represents a person's capacity to become interested in sex as a result of encountering certain situations or stimuli … even if the individual did not initially feel sexually motivated. The defining characteristic of arousability is that it is triggered by external cues or situations. As such, it can be thought of as situation dependent (204-205). Simplistically put, proceptivity is biologically based whereas arousability is the product of environmental influences. But even here we must note, Diamond argues, that the relationship between the two is complex and constitutes a dynamic system where there can be a great deal of overlap. Women, Diamond argues, tend to be more variable than men in their proceptive sexual desires because of the varying levels of hormones during their menstrual cycle. And they are more variable as well in terms of their arousability, and often maintain that they become aroused by the person rather than the gender.
In addition to discussing a wealth of literature on her subject, Diamond has engaged in a 10-year study of a number of young women in their late teens and twenties who she interviewed every two years. The results of this investigation form the heart of Sexual Fluidity and offer an incredible and fascinating insight into the lives and thoughts of these amazingly bright, engaging, perceptive and articulate people. Without that study and without the voices of these women, Sexual Fluidity would have been a good book: with them, it is a great one. Buy the book, read it and savor the experience.
© 2010 Robert Scott Stewart
Robert Scott Stewart, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy and Chair of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Cape Breton University, Canada, Scott_stewart@cbu.ca